By Joseph Campbell
ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) – Vietnamese Catholics who flew thousands of miles to see Pope Francis in Mongolia had one message for the pontiff: They want him to visit their communist-run country too.
“Visit Vietnam, Papa,” some in the group shouted as the pope was driven in a golf cart past a crowd of about 2,000 people of various nationalities on the grounds of the Catholic cathedral in Ulaanbaatar on Saturday.
Vietnam broke off relations with the Vatican after the communists took over the reunited country at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The authorities then viewed the Catholic Church in Vietnam as having been too close to the former colonial power, France.
“I see that he’s very near, very near distance. So I really want to cry when I see him,” said Cindy Pham from Ho Chi Minh City. “Even when I saw him, the first time at the gate, I ran, ran a lot to see him again.”
The prospect of a papal visit to Vietnam, once seemingly impossible, became more realistic last month when the Vatican and Hanoi agreed to have a Resident Papal Representative in Hanoi.
It was a step years in the making which could lead to full diplomatic ties. It was announced on July 27 when the pope received Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong at the Vatican.
“I really hope that he will visit Vietnam in the short term,” Pham said, mentioning the hope spawned by president’s visit to the Vatican.
Maria Vo, a Vietnamese-born tour guide who now lives in the Philippines, could not contain her excitement as Francis waved from the moving golf cart.
“I cannot tell (you) my feelings right now, because I’m so happy,” said Vo, seeing the pope for the first time. “Vietnamese people, we love him and are waiting for him to visit us in Vietnam.”
(Writing by Joseph Campbell and Philip Pullella; Editing by Ros Russell)